The Future of Reading
by Alex Pham and David Sarno / (c) 2010, Los Angeles Times. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Technology is changing the way we read. Can publishers keep up with the trend?
More than 550 years after Johannes Gutenberg printed 180 copies of the Bible on paper and vellum, new technologies as revolutionary as the printing press are changing the concept of a book and what it means to be literate.
Sound, animation and the ability to connect to the Internet have created the notion of a living book that can establish an entirely new kind of relationship with readers.
As electronic reading devices evolve and proliferate, books are increasingly able to talk to readers, quiz them on their grasp of the material, play videos to illustrate a point or connect them with a community of fellow readers.
The same technology enables readers to reach out to authors, provide instant reaction and even become creative collaborators, influencing plot developments and the writer's use of dramatic devices.
Digital tools are also making it possible for independent authors to publish and promote their books, causing an outpouring of written work on every topic imaginable.
Advantages for the visually impaired
Vook (the name is a mash-up of "video" and "book") has published more than two dozen titles. In addition to displaying pages from a book, digital e-readers can read them aloud, opening up a literary trove for the blind and the visually impaired who have long had only a thin selection of audio and Braille books to choose from. Devices made by Amazon.com Inc. and Intel Corp. are able to convert text into speech.
"You now have the ability to make a book talk," said George Kerscher, head of the Digital Accessible Information System Consortium in Zurich, Switzerland. Kerscher, who studied computer science at the University of Montana and is blind, has spent two decades lobbying publishers to make books more accessible to visually impaired readers.